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Meet LalaineMae Oliveria-Villafana of North County Lifeline

Today we’d like to introduce you to LalaineMae Oliveria-Villafana.

LalaineMae, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
Growing up, both my mother and father encouraged me to try as many things as possible to allow me to see what I was capable of and to find my place in the world. I kept my mind open and my circle large to ensure I not only had the ability to acclimate to different situations or environments but to also recognize opportunities for growth. I was consistently involved in sports teams, cultural clubs, volunteer groups. and music up until my high school graduation, hoping I would have the appropriate tools to ‘walk into the real world” (Boy, was I in for a surprise).

I was exposed to the mental health field at a fairly young age; my mother opened her first home care facility for adults and older adults living with developmental disabilities when I was 7 years old. We joke that I have been in on the job training the moment the first resident came in. I started officially working for my mom in high school, training to be an administrator, and it was through the residents did I find the true meaning of altruism, and my desire to have a career in the mental health field.

I took business in undergrad and minored in a few specialties hoping to gain the knowledge and skills to one day establish non-profit providing services for under-served populations. Years later, after realizing the business world and I did not mesh well, I went to grad school and took clinical psychology with an emphasis in marriage, family therapy to work one on one with clients. I completed my practicum with UPAC’s Positive Solutions Program (prevention and early intervention) working with older adults, which confirmed and validated my interest in mental health. I worked in the school districts and behavior field for some time, got experience in private practice, but finally found my calling with North County Lifeline. I initially was signed on as a temporary, part-time clinician with the HERE Now Program (school-based suicide prevention and early intervention) while building my private practice clients, and then offered a full-time clinician position with their Community Services for Families Program shortly after. And never looked back. A year after working with families who experienced domestic violence, I was offered to come back to the HERE Now Program as a manager, and I feel blessed to be surrounded by many like-minded, passionate individuals.

Has it been a smooth road?
It definitely has had its memorable moments and challenges, but I do believe that every step I took brought me to exactly where I needed to be and where I am now. I am known for my discretion, especially because of the field I work in, but I can share a couple of stories that may help others who may find some solace in them.

Each person goes through their share of trauma, and I did not acknowledge or accept mine until I was a young adult. The stigma of mental health is very real for a second-generation Filipina-American, so therapy was very difficult for me to follow through on, or even put faith in. As an adult, I was fortunate enough to find a therapist who helped me maneuver through and process my trauma and encouraged me to continue to work on my growth.

Grad school was a bit of a struggle for me. I was in school full time and working full time, hardly seeing my toddler and husband (who also works full time). I would work 7-3:30 every day and then have classes 2-3 times a week from 4-10pm. I owe it to my husband for keeping me sane throughout that chapter of my life and being my ultimate support system, and my parents who stepped in to help care for my son and cheered me on the entire way.

Life’s journey can bring us to four-way stops, u-turns, and dead ends. Sometimes, it feels impossible to get out of current situations. But I like going by… nothing is impossible. Challenging, maybe. But not impossible.

We’d love to hear more about your work.
North County Lifeline is a nonprofit, social services agency. Lifeline offers programs aimed at strengthening communities from the ground up, and building self-reliance among youth, adults, and families. With a wide range of services and resources in youth development, child abuse and domestic violence prevention & intervention, behavioral health, housing & self-sufficiency, and human trafficking prevention & intervention, Lifeline gives youth, adults, and families the tools they need to solve their own problems and become self-reliant. North County Lifeline prides itself on being connected to the community and responsive to the needs of our clients.

Each member of the Lifeline team is fully engaged in our mission statement and enriches the Lifeline culture with their own experiences. We are serious about the care of our clients and have a master’s level clinicians, yet we don’t take ourselves too seriously. We practice self-care as an agency through our Healthy Lunches and weekly yoga, and continually strive to offer opportunities for learning and growth.

The specific program I manage, H.E.R.E Now, is a subcontract of San Diego Youth Services, HERE Now School-based suicide prevention and early intervention program- which is funded by County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency Behavioral Health Services. We fulfill California’s Assembly Bill 2246, requiring local educational agencies to adopt suicide prevention policies. We have the great opportunity to go into all the middle and high schools throughout San Diego County and provide psychoeducation in a presentation format in regards to suicide, depression, unsafe behaviors, bullying, coping skills, where or how to get help. We give students the opportunity to speak with a team member during the week we are at the school, providing a one-time safety assessment, and provide resources/referrals as well. We work closely with our counterparts at San Diego Youth Services and South Bay Community Services to ensure the quality of care/services in the schools throughout San Diego. Our weeks are full of meeting students where they are at emotionally, reconnecting relationships and engaging community members. The contract’s goal is to reach 10,000 students a year, so we are at one (sometimes two) schools a week implementing the Signs of Suicide Curriculum. I am proud to advocate for our youth. I am proud to work alongside passionate individuals who promote positive mental health and mental health services. And I am proud to be part of the initiative that is working to end the stigma of mental health.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
I am looking forward to the days North County Lifeline to expand to other areas of San Diego. There is such a need in our community for various mental health services, and I am grateful to be part of an organization that advocates and works for the community.

I would whole-heartedly recommend anyone starting out in the mental health field to start in San Diego. We have so many wonderful organizations working towards the same goal, and provide amazing training to help enhance skills.

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